Self-publishing is a learn-as-you-go process. Authors must constantly adapt and try new tactics in order to get their books in front of the right audience. We asked experienced authors if there was a single thing they did that helped boost sales. Here’s their helpful advice.

Advertise to the right list, even if that list doesn’t look like it accepts advertising

When Naresh Vissa released his book Podcastnomics, he was disappointed with initial sales. “I did a couple of Reddit AMAs, was interviewed by some small print and broadcast media, and used social media to spread the word,” he said, but “my book still couldn’t crack 100 books sold. Fortunately, I found a targeted blog geared towards podcasters, contacted the administrator, and asked him if I could advertise to his mailing list for nearly $300. He said very few people contacted him to advertise and that he never even thought of accepting advertising.”

The blogger agreed to Naresh’s request and sent an e-mail to his list, teasing the book and recommending it as required reading for all podcasters. “Within 24 hours,” Naresh said, “I sold more than 90 copies of the book, and later that week, it climbed all the way to #1 in its primary category on Amazon’s bestseller list. I recouped my advertising expense with that one quick and simple send. And because it rose the charts, Amazon then started pushing my book out because they thought it would sell well moving forward… and it has. I’ve sold more than 4,000 copies of the book to date.”

Get smart with email drip marketing

David Brown, author of The PFB Diet book, managed to triple his sales by setting up a drip marketing sequence. “Instead of directing my readers directly to the book sales page,” he said, “I started directing them to my subscribe page, where they can instantly download a free sample chapter from my book. After downloading the sample chapter, they receive five follow-up emails over the next 5 days, and these emails offer further insight into how my diet works.” David remarked that even though “I have done a ton of things to optimize my sales figures,… this one change really stands out in terms of how little work it took to gain such a major boost.”

Repackage what has sold successfully before

Carey Heywood is a best-selling romance author, and has had success by bundling her already-published material into a boxset. “The investment is low since the material already exists,” she says. “The cost to create a bundle is mainly formatting, cover design, and advertising.” Simple as that!

Redesign the cover

Carey also recommends redesigning a book’s cover, a strategy she calls “a cost-effective way to bring new attention to an older book.” She is currently designing a new cover for her book Better. “Once I have my new cover,” she says, “I plan to promote it with a paid cover re-reveal blitz and a sale,” a strategy that worked well for her in the past.

cover-design-poll

Many authors also use PickFu to test cover designs and find the one that audiences find most appealing. Author Dennis J. Coughlin said, “I loved my PickFu experience. I used it for my book [Rain Down‘s] cover design and I found the results were extremely helpful. I was impressed by the speed of the voting and the fact that everyone left a detailed comment in addition to their vote.”

Have you found a simple trick that boosted your book’s sales? Let us know!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPamela Wilson is the Executive Vice President of Educational Content at Rainmaker Digital, the company behind the popular content marketing website Copyblogger. She co-hosts a biweekly podcast called ZeroToBook with bestselling author Jeff Goins. The show follows Pamela’s progress in self-publishing from start to finish.

In June, Pamela was anxious to give her work a name so that she could start sharing it with people. During an episode of the podcast, she and Jeff discussed the importance of a book’s title and Jeff explained a methodical process for ideating titles and getting unbiased feedback from potential customers.

At the heart of his process – PickFu.

Gauge your audience before you publish

Jeff explained to Pamela how PickFu polls readers and tests their reactions to potential book titles. The respondents not only vote on their preference, but leave a written explanation about their choice. By polling audiences, authors gain a unique understanding of what the title conveys, how readers perceive what the book is about, and whether they are interested in knowing more.

Shortly after the podcast, Pamela gave PickFu a try. She tested 12 different titles. Some titles fell away quickly, as audiences clearly showed a preference for alternatives. For instance, 71% of respondents preferred The Blank Page Cure over the punny The Write Way to Market Your Business with Content. Other titles consistently polled well, including The Content Mentor and Content Mastery.

Speed and Confidence

“I couldn’t believe how quickly I got my results back,” Pamela said. “I had gone back and forth with ideas in my head for weeks. I should have just used PickFu so I could move on to thinking about other (more productive) things.”

As Pamela narrowed her list of contenders, she began to test various subtitles, too. She folded in what PickFu respondents had told her about some of her ideas, such as a cure for the blank page, into her subtitle options.

“I do trust my instincts,” she said, “but I think it’s especially challenging to see your project as others see it when you’ve been nose down in it for many months. PickFu helped me to find the book title the majority of people were drawn to.”

Feedback matters

In the end, Pamela named her book Master Content Marketing: A Simple Strategy to Cure the Blank Page Blues & Attract a Profitable Audience.

“I realized that clarity is more important than cleverness,” she said. “This is a marketing lesson I know well — and even teach. But sometimes you have to be reminded of the things you already know. The winning title was the clearest and most direct of all the options I put on PickFu.”

Judging a book by its cover

Pamela wasn’t done with PickFu just yet. It was now time to work on a cover design. She had an idea for her book’s cover but needed to know what color scheme worked best. Pamela ran a three-option round-robin poll, whereby each option is tested against the other two.

round-robin-poll

She then polled the winner of the round-robin against a similar color scheme:

test-book-covers

“[PickFu is] the quickest way to get feedback on an idea from a broad range of people.” Pamela remarked. “Don’t guess what people will think — find out by asking them!”

Pamela’s book will be available soon. Until then, subscribe to her podcast and follow her on Twitter!

Recently, a new customer signed up for PickFu and told us he’d discovered our service in a book. That book was Launch Tomorrow: The Non-Designer’s Guide to Using a Landing Page to Launch a Lean Startup, by Luke Szyrmer.

In it, Szyrmer outlines a method for defining an audience, validating an idea, and quickly taking that idea to market. PickFu is featured as a means of rapid market testing “in order to figure out which concepts grab attention, tickle tastebuds, and leave people wanting more.”

“The implications of PickFu,” he writes, “are enormous… If you can find out how people react to a certain color or shape or logo or byline, you have a much better chance of choosing something attractive.”

Szyrmer emphasizes PickFu’s affordability and speed. He recommends using PickFu polls to create an attractive offer and to make important branding decisions. “By choosing a brand and a style that already evokes exactly the feelings and associations that you want in your target market, you construct a unique experience which can’t be found anywhere else. With PickFu, you can test these associations out within minutes.”

The author is honest about a drawback, too: “Declared behavior isn’t the same as actual behavior. This is a big problem with branding, traditional advertising and market research. Just because people say they’ll be happy to buy something often doesn’t mean that they actually will. As a result, you can’t be certain that the declared results will directly correlate with sales. Nonetheless, PickFu’s inexpensive and fast. If you want to put some numbers to help you prioritize a list (of for example bullets), then it’s a great first cut to weed out the more attractive options based on consumer opinions.”

If you’re curious about Szyrmer’s other tips for aspiring entrepreneurs, check out Launch Tomorrow on Kindle or @LaunchTomorrow on Twitter.

Steve Chou runs an online store called Bumblebee Linens. As an e-commerce site owner, he knows that an appealing photo can make the difference between losing a customer and making a sale. In fact, a simple photo swap helped Steve improve sales on a listing by 209%.

In order to test photos, Steve ran split tests on his website, whereby he published a listing, waited several days, swapped out the images for new ones, waited again, and then compared the results. The problem with split testing, however, “is that it takes forever. Every test that I run usually takes at least 3 weeks or more,” he wrote in a blog post. “And I’d say that 9 times out of 10, my tests are inconclusive.”

Besides the time required, a conversion pixel or some kind of tracking mechanism was needed, adding complexity and hassle to the tests, especially when selling on sites like Amazon, eBay, or Etsy. “Not only is this a major pain in the butt if you have multiple listings,” he said, “but if you’re lazy like me, you’re never going to do it.”

So when Steve heard about PickFu, “I thought I’d give it a try just for fun.” He took a listing from his store and tested his current featured photo against a new photo.

This was the photo he was running:

test-ecommerce-photo

And this was the new photo:

test-e-commerce-photos

After surveying 50 women in the span of less than 20 minutes, the second photo beat the first by a margin of 3 to 1. The female respondents gave answers such as the following:

• It’s like a recommended serving suggestion – it just looks great and makes you picture using it
• The purple flowers against the gray backdrop and white napkins is gorgeous.
• … the flowers make it more interesting and make the napkins look a bit more fancy.

Steve admits that PickFu won’t replace traditional split tests, because split tests use your actual website customers as test subjects. Still, split tests take time to set up, and even more time to run. “Depending on your traffic levels, it can often take several months before you can get an answer,” he said. “Now it’s one thing if they always ended up providing conclusive results, but it’s rarely the case. … So from my perspective, I’m very reluctant to run a split test now unless it’s for something major. But for everything else, I’m more inclined to pay [a few] bucks and get a quick 20-minute answer from PickFu.”

After publishing his blog, one commenter wrote, “Wow, Steve, this is AWESOME! I’m definitely going to give PickFu a try. I’ve known about split testing and wanted to try it but it seemed overwhelming and technical. This, however, is right up my alley.”

Is PickFu right up your alley? Tell us about it! And keep in mind, we at PickFu practice what we preach. We tested two possible titles for this very blog post.

Mike Fishbein has self-published twelve books. “I used to think that I could just write a great book and publish it and then the sales would roll in,” he wrote in a blog post. “I was wrong.”

Mike’s most recent book, Your First Bestseller: How to Self-Publish a Successful Book on Amazon, became the top-seller in Direct Marketing.

So what changed?

Mike learned that it’s not enough to write a compelling book. The book has to be designed in such a way that readers will want to buy it. And that means having a well-crafted title and a stand-out cover.

For that, he turned to PickFu.

“I had a radical idea to use a 1970s-style motif for the title and cover,” Mike told us. After brainstorming many ideas, he was most excited to title his book Pimp Your Book: How to Self-Publish a Bestseller on Amazon. “I thought it would add character and be attention-grabbing, [but] when I tested it on PickFu, I learned that readers found it unappealing and tacky.”

testing-book-titles

Here are some actual responses:

  • I feel like “Pimp your…” is over done and a little bit dated now. It also implies a cheap way to do something, not a money saving or independent way to get something done.
  • Don’t think the title “Pimp my Book” is appropriate or appealing! Makes me think of hookers not book publishing!
  • I dont think using the word pimp in a book will attract people who are serious
  • I do not like option A’s use of the word “pimp” as it’s juvenile and offensive.

“The unfortunate truth,” Mike said, “is that my opinion is not always right. Fortunately, PickFu told me what my readers think, which is the most important opinion at the end of the day. Had I used my personal favorite title idea, instead of the one that tested better on PickFu, I’m not sure I would have had the same results.”

With his title decided on, Mike went to work with a graphic designer to create the book’s cover.

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“People see your cover in places like the ‘Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought’ of related book pages, category bestseller lists, and search results,” he wrote. “Your cover, in addition to your title, will in part determine whether or not they click through to your book page.”

In the past, Mike made what he called the “rookie mistake” of hiring a designer on Fiverr and expecting great results. It took trial and error before finding a designer with whom he’s got a great working relationship. Today, Mike recommends designing at least two versions to split test. “Designers will likely charge more for that, but I believe it’s worth it.”

testing-book-covers

Mike discovered another benefit to using PickFu. “Previously I relied on my email list for feedback. I get great feedback from my email subscribers, but it’s hard to get a high volume of responses in a short amount of time. In addition, I’m limited to my existing subscribers as testers. PickFu enables me to get a large volume of feedback in a short amount of time from people that aren’t already on my email list.”

Mike’s book sold over 400 copies in the first ten days of its launch, and attributes some of his success with the tests he ran before publishing. “I would recommend PickFu because it’s easy to use and provides actionable feedback that’s both quantitative and qualitative. It enables you to see not only what cover or title is favored, but why it is favored.”

Have you had similar success as an author using PickFu? Tell us about it in the comments!

PS – We used PickFu to test the title of this article. See the results!

 

Michael Cowden faced a dilemma. He and his team had been working for months on a mobile game called Outrun the 80s. Then a friend in marketing suggested a different name — Super 80s World.

Not bad, Mike thought. But is it better than Outrun the 80s?

He asked his friends. He asked his family. But, as he later told us, “the problem with this method is that they aren’t necessarily the target audience or the most likely to be honest with you.”

So Mike turned to PickFu. He polled 50 people and asked, “Which mobile game sounds like more fun?”

super-80s-world

Super 80s World won, but only by a narrow margin. What was surprising, however, was what the people who voted in favor said in the comments.

“It reminds me of Mario.”
“I love the 80s and Super 80s World sounds more exciting.”
“I don’t like A because it makes it sound like you are trying to run away from the 80s, and that was my childhood! I like the B title because it celebrates the fun 1980s.”

As Mike wrote later on the Super 80s World blog, “I could immediately tell that Super 80s World communicated the game concept much better. The folks that liked that name got what the game was about and, more importantly, wanted to play it!”

Since then, Mike has continued to turn to PickFu for help in answering key questions about the game. For example, he tested two logo concepts, and what became the game’s logo won overwhelmingly:

testing-logos

He also tested concepts for game characters:

mobile-app-testing

He even tested questions like, “Based on the donation levels on this Kickstarter page, would you be willing to donate?” and “For ‘Episode 1’ of a Mobile Platformer Game (like Mario Bros), does 3 worlds and 30 levels sounds like… too many / too few,” and “Which of the following animations feels more natural for the play of the game?”

“Being able to answer a key business question for $20 is a no-brainer,” Mike told us. “As soon as I saw that this service was available at a reasonable price, I was sold. You can’t make key business decisions in a vacuum or an echo chamber. PickFu is a very cost-effective way of getting immediate user feedback.”

Super 80s World is currently in beta, so sign up for early access and see what other exciting turns the game takes!

99designs is a great site for startups and small businesses – for just a few hundred dollars, you can launch a design contest for a logo, WordPress template, PowerPoint deck, signage, and more. Graphic designers around the world compete to win, you provide feedback, and after seven days, you pick a winner.

Here at PickFu, we crowdsourced our own logo using 99designs. Once the contest began, however, something became clear: even though receiving over 350 designs was valuable from a cost perspective, choosing a winner among them all was beyond overwhelming.

“We’re programmers, not designers,” said Justin Chen, PickFu co-founder. “Other than my own visceral reaction, it was hard to judge the value of all the colors, typefaces, and icons.” Continue reading

A short while ago, I wrote about Twitter’s new polling feature. I was excited when the feature was rolled out to me so I could try it myself.

Now, I’m not the world’s biggest Twitter user. I’m certainly no celebrity. But I’ve been active on Twitter for over five years and at the time of this writing, I have 423 followers. (Want to boost my ego and add to the total? Follow me @kimkohatsu!) My 400+ users are comprised of professional contacts, brands I’ve mentioned or contacted via Twitter, and some friends and family. According to a 2012 study (the latest I could find), the average Twitter user has 208 followers. I’ve got over twice as many — not bad, right?Continue reading

“What the hell’s wrong with my cover?”

Temple Williams reacted as most of us would at the suggestion he test the cover of his self-published book Warrior Patient.

But Williams, who has worked at several ad agencies and Reader’s Digest, knows that polling is powerful. “I hate it when [polls] tell me I’m wrong,” he wrote to us. “But it’s even worse to get the project wrong because of the power of self-deception.”Continue reading